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Squib Majors At Kinsale In June Provide Ideal Launching Pad For Ireland’s Reviving International Sailing Scene In 2022

15th January 2022
God’s own harbour town – Kinsale provides excellent berthing, superb hospitality, great sailing, and top class sport afloat
God’s own harbour town – Kinsale provides excellent berthing, superb hospitality, great sailing, and top class sport afloat

When the Irish Squib Class signed off their 2021 season with boats from all parts of the country taking part in the successful though socially-distanced Freshwater Regatta for four national keelboat classes at Dromineer on Lough Derg in October, the parting message of hope was: “See you in Kinsale next June”.

Even then, when no-one knew what the future might bring and omicron was still only something in the ancient Greek alphabet, the sport at Dromineer had been such a booster in itself that optimism was the mood of the moment. And despite soaring adverse graphs since, there’s no escaping the feeling that Kinsale – with its new offshore challenge, the Inishtearaght Race Round the Blaskets in May, and the Bandon Co-op Squib Nationals in June (June 19th to 24th) - is emerging as a pace-setter in getting the 2022 season up to speed.

Squib action for the October Freshwater Regatta on Lough Derg. Photo: W M NixonSquib action for the October Freshwater Regatta on Lough Derg. Photo: W M Nixon

As well it might be. It just has so much going for it, in terms of the superb natural harbour and the picturesque port town, with its south-facing location in the deep south of Ireland where summer arriving earlier than anywhere else. Thus the Kinsallions (or should that be Kinsaleans?) would be letting themselves down - and everyone else too - if they didn’t realise the full potential of a port which is so complete it could comfortably be the ultimate computer-generated creation for the dream of a perfect Irish sailing centre, were it not already so very much abundantly in existence.

Yet as any observer of the national and international sailing scene will be well aware, Kinsale Yacht Club builds on the blessings of its location. It is renowned for its hospitable enthusiasm in sharing the attractions of its many sailing advantages with visitors from near and far, whether they be racing or cruising.

 Summer perfection. Squib racing at Kinsale. Photo KYC Summer perfection. Squib racing at Kinsale. Photo KYC

Under Commodore Matthias Hellstern and his team, they’ve taken on board the pandemic-compliant lessons learned during 2021 when they successfully hosted a socially-distanced Sovereigns Cup series as well as other events. And though everyone hopes that the COVID-19 situation will have improved out of all recognition by the early summer, the Kinsale YC volunteers now know well that you should plan in a way that can cope with setbacks while taking full advantage of any improvements.

Kinsale is a place where the colourful 19ft Squib keelboats seem at their happiest, so much so that almost all of Bob Bateman’s photos of them racing there seem to be in bright sunshine, with the little boats and their crews exuding joy in the sea and sailing. But then, the Squib has a built-in happiness factor, for it can be more or less just whatever you want it to be.

Bob Bateman impression of Squibs at Kinsale – you’d get a suntan from just looking at this image…..photo: Robert BatemanBob Bateman impression of Squibs at Kinsale – you’d get a suntan from just looking at this image…..Photo: Robert Bateman

For if you demand a boat around this size which provides really hairy high-speed sport and boy racers to go with it, then the SB20 is your only man. And if you need a comparable boat in which racing is the be-all and end-all of its existence, then it’s the Flying Fifteen for you. But if you want a keelboat in this size range which isn’t priced off the planet yet can provide real sit-in comfort and user-friendly options for family day cruising in addition to an excellent racing programme, then the Squib ticks all the boxes.

Thus it’s understandable that the idea of pandemic emergence for the Squibs and sailing generally could best be served by a joint Irish-British Squib championship in Kinsale was enthusiastically saluted from the moment it went up the flagpole, and it will simply be known as the Squib Nationals. Those who would be pedantic in querying the validity of this title should rest easy, for it has been done before with notable success, way back in 1996 in Howth.

The Howth Squib fleet is of modest size these days, but where else would you find a lighthouse with colourful floral window-boxes? Photo: Annraoi BlaneyThe Howth Squib fleet is of modest size these days, but where else would you find a lighthouse with colourful floral window-boxes? Photo: Annraoi Blaney

In those days Howth was the happening place for Squibs, whereas nowadays they do well to muster double figures, though the class is currently on the up again. But 26 years ago, the Peninsula was awash with the little boats. Despite the fraught political situation - for this was still two years before the Good Friday Agreement - they hunted regularly with the English and Welsh fleets, and when it was agreed that they’d run the combined championship at Howth in June, a reverse invasion took place to such good effect that on one particular day, Tuesday 25th June 1996 with key organizer Dave Murnane pushing everyone afloat, they managed a hundred boats on the starting line.

Ghosts from the past – a hundred Squibs making an excellent fleet start at Howth in 1996. Photo: Mandy Murnane, courtesy Dave MurnaneGhosts from the past – a hundred Squibs making an excellent fleet start at Howth in 1996. Photo: Mandy Murnane, courtesy Dave Murnane

At the front end of the fleet the pace was ferocious, but it was only right and proper that the overall winners should be Stuart Brewer and Paul Manning of the Royal Corinthian YC in Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. For it’s part of Squib mythology that the concept of the boat originated from the local doctor having a couple of pints with designer/builder Oliver Lee in the pub in Burnham in late 1966. It turned into a brain-storming session, as the doctor had the complete distinctive blue sails and rig for an Enterprise dinghy but with no boat to go with it all, so he wondered if Lee could design him a little keelboat suitable for a sailor of advancing years which would make use of this redundant rig.

Just in case there was any subsequent doubt, the caption made it very clear.Just in case there was any subsequent doubt, the caption made it very clear. 

Quite how a rig of blue sails for a 13ft 3in racing dinghy designed by Jack Holt with river racing a priority became a suit of tanned sails for a 19ft keelboat designed by Oliver Lee and noted for its seagoing power is anyone’s guess. But for 2022 there’s a certain symmetry to all this, for although there were few if any Enterprise dinghies around Howth in 1996 or any other time, in their day Kinsale was a stronghold of the Enterprise class, for they were attractive-looking boats and their river-oriented rig with a huge mainsail made them extremely entertaining to race in a big seaway – sailing conditions which are not exactly unknown in the waters outside Kinsale’s glorious natural harbour.

However, back in 1996, it was two GP14 sailors from Sutton – Ruan O Tiarnaigh (who now sails an X38 from Belfast Lough) and Stephen Boyle, who were best of the Irish in the Squib mega-championship at fourth overall. But as the series was taking place at the same time as the Round Ireland Race (won that year by Michael Boyd in the J/35 Big Ears), photographers were scarce in Howth, but happily the late Mandy Murnane was there with her little happy-snap camera to get admittedly spectral proof that there were indeed a hundred boats on the starting line. And fair play to them, as a fleet they’re making a very good start.

So how will numbers stack up for 2022s Squib Nationals at Kinsale? As of today (Friday, January 14th) there are already 44 in the box.

Squib Nationals at Kinsale

It’s a list which certainly deserves examination, as it gives an excellent idea of the spread of the class and the kind of people involved, with the first sign-up being by Dick Batt, the sailmaker of Bosham on Chichester Harbour, who so enjoys racing his Squib in Ireland that he and Pamela have had their boat based here for the past couple of years.

It all started with two men in a pub…….the Squib very successfully fills a specific niche in the market.It all started with two men in a pub…….the Squib very successfully fills a specific niche in the market.

As mentioned, the most recent major gathering was the Freshwater Regatta at Dromineer in mid-October, where the overall winners were Cultra’s RNIYC crew of Gordon Patterson & Ross Nolan, while the runners-up were Kinsale’s Ian Travers and Keith O’Riordan.

But Ian Travers will be doing well if he actually races in June’s big championship, as he’s the Regatta Director, for the Travers family are a clan accustomed to putting their heads on the block for the good of sailing – his father Brendan was the prime force in persuading Shannon Development to install the vast improvements which made possible the marina and usefully-sheltered training waters at Kilrush in County Clare.

Ian Travers and Keith O’Riordan with the Squibs nicely under control racing in the Outer Harbour at Kinsale

However, in best Kinsale style, Ian Travers has assembled a team of formidable talents in support, as they include Michael O’Sullivan, John & Mary Stanley, Denis & Ger Kiernan, Frank McGowan, Fiona “The Pirate” Ward, and Class Captain Richard Calnan, while the broader Squib community is represented by NSOA Organiser Peter Richards and their Chairman Dick Batt, with the always informative and entertaining online Squib Forum being on the strength through Chairman Robert Marshall of Killyleagh.

Yet even with such a team, for complete success an event like this needs to be embedded into the community from which it is being sailed, so when I commented on the main sponsors being Bandon Co-op which you’d scarcely think of in a maritime context, Ian Travers responded that they’re very much part of the fabric of Kinsale’s life and commerce. For indeed if you head directly inland away up the narrow and winding streets away from Kinsale’s glamorously maritime waterfront, you’ll very quickly find yourself in the midst of rich and fertile farmland which would have Jeremy Clarkson eating his heart out.

Co-sponsors include Cork County Council, Holt Marine, Hyde Sails and Batt Sails, and very importantly the transport partner is Irish Ferries to get the cross-water entries across as efficiently and economically as possible.

If the pandemic does clear enough and we learn to live with whatever new circumstances evolve, the guess is we might be looking at 80 boats, as already the defending British champion Mike Budd has his name in the hat, and so too has Irish champion Ross Kearney. But with racing of that calibre guaranteed, who knows what talents from other classes might be tempted to take temporary flight in a Squib, for the sense of community of the class was such that the late and much-lamented Jack Roy – despite his many sailing commitments at national and international level – was never happier than when taking his essential dosage of Squib racing.

His Happy Place….the much-missed Jack Roy particularly cherished his time spent with his friends in the Squib ClassHis Happy Place….the much-missed Jack Roy particularly cherished his time spent with his friends in the Squib Class

For some, Squibs are for life – Dick Hewett, whose CV included being Royal Sailing Master on the International Dragon Class Bluebottle, was happily and successfully racing his Squib every Cowes Week until well into his eighties. For others, the Squib exactly fills the bill for use as the versatile tribal boat at a certain stage of family development.

Thus for the relatively brief period we were involved with the Squibs at Howth, we day-cruised en famille even more than we raced, even though the racing was a busy programme with the Lambay Race – for which the Squibs are ideal - at its peak.

That’s all rather a long time ago now. In this happily blurry family sailing snap, one of the very young sailors on our Squib Huppatee has since recorded some formidable offshore racing success, but now as a family man himself has gone into Howth 17 ownership.

Added value. The Squibs provide great racing, yet they can be used for family day cruising as well. Photo: W M NixonAdded value. The Squibs provide great racing, yet they can be used for family day cruising as well. Photo: W M Nixon

As for the one wolfing a sandwich at the helm, he now lives in a very ancient thatched house on the quay at Bosham on Chichester Harbour, just along the shore from Dick Batt’s sail-loft. The coast is very low-lying thereabouts, and thus our big son – with two very able junior sailors of his own – lives in the only house I know which is fitted with a large and very powerful bilge-pump.

But his life is easy compared to the pub just three doors along, which is even lower-lying. With rising sea levels, their back door had to be replaced with a complete door unit salvaged from a submarine which was being scrapped. It came with all the gear including the very accessible activating wheel which makes it all totally watertight. When a big tide comes surging up Bosham Creek, think Das Boot…

Published in W M Nixon, Squib, Kinsale
WM Nixon

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WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland and internationally for many years, with his work appearing in leading sailing publications on both sides of the Atlantic. He has been a regular sailing columnist for four decades with national newspapers in Dublin, and has had several sailing books published in Ireland, the UK, and the US. An active sailor, he has owned a number of boats ranging from a Mirror dinghy to a Contessa 35 cruiser-racer, and has been directly involved in building and campaigning two offshore racers. His cruising experience ranges from Iceland to Spain as well as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, and he has raced three times in both the Fastnet and Round Ireland Races, in addition to sailing on two round Ireland records. A member for ten years of the Council of the Irish Yachting Association (now the Irish Sailing Association), he has been writing for, and at times editing, Ireland's national sailing magazine since its earliest version more than forty years ago

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